This is shocking indeed. In India, while the Ministry of Agriculture works in tandem with the chemical and pesticides industry to promote hazardous pesticides in the name of food security, Thailand has gone a step further. It has actually classified some (formulations) of the well known plant species with insect repelling properties as "hazardous".
Only the other day, I had talked about the virtues of neem tree in controlling insect pests and diseases. In my blog Renewed interest in wonder tree: harnessing neem (Jan 29, 2009), I had detailed out how in the next five years the global trade in neem products for pest control, medicines, pharmaceuticals, toiletries is expected to grow to US $ 500 million. In fact, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) has launched a nationwide project on the production and promotion of neem based pesticides.
Why I am telling you this, is because neem is now listed among the 'hazardous substance type 1" in Thailand. The list includes 13 plants in this category, and neem is not the only wonder tree that has been surruptiously brought under this category. Two other plants -- turmeric and ginger -- which formed part of your grandmothers's recipe for some of the commonly occuring ailments are also classified as "hazardous". The list of such "hazardous" substances includes: neem, turmeric, ginger, citronella grass, Chinese ginger, Chinese celery, African marigold, Siam weed and chilli.
I am not only shocked but feel outraged. How can the pesticides industry be allowed to challenge my grandmother's wisdom that has been passed from generations to generations? Is this the level to which the governments have come down to? That they are willing to do everything and anything (howsoever absurd it might be) for the sake of commercial interests of the pesticides industry?
Turmeric and ginger form part of our daily diet. Both these plants, in addition to neem, are also used by farmers all over the country in different formulations to control pests and diseases. I agree that there may be some problems in standardisation of the techniques in manufacturing herbal products made from these plant species, but to classify them as 'hazardous' is a loud warning about the shape of things to come. In the name of standards, which should conform to industry prescription, the objective is to sully the name of herbal formulations and by doing so the Ministry of Agriculture actually protects the commercial interests of the pesticides companies.
That is what they are paid for. Let there be no doubt about it. And if you think the malaise is only confined to Thailand, think again. The Ministry of Agriculture in India is no different.
Thailand's Department of Agriculture, like that in India, does not know about these herbal formulations and has never promoted them. All it does is to promote the chemical pesticides. In India, you will be surprised to learn that in a recent workshop in Hyderabad, the Ministry of Agriculture was so perturbed when some NGOs and agricultural scientists called for stopping the use of weedicides in rice (in the light of the underlying principles of SRI technique in rice), that an apology has been sought for 'commenting against government'.
Here is a newsreport from the pages of The Nation, Bangkok.
Govt called to cancel rules listing herbs as hazardous
BANGKOK: -- A group of organic farmers and alternative agricultural activists have called on the government to cancel regulations listing 13 herbal plants as hazardous substances, saying they would destroy local initiative in using the plants as alternative pesticides in place of chemicals.
The group also asked the government to withdraw this legislation - an Industry Ministerial regulation and a Draft of Agricultural Ministerial regulation - within 30 days.
If there was no response from the government they would gather at Government House to submit their petition and pressure Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said the group's leader, Thai Health Foundation's director, Veerapong Kriangsinyot.
The Industry Ministry - aiming to control pesticide production and commercialisation - announced its new regulation on February 3, listing the 13 plants as "hazardous substances type 1" under the 1992 Hazardous Substances Act.
The plants are: neem, citronella grass, tumeric, ginger, Chinese ginger, African marigold, Siam weed or bitter bush, tea seed cake, chilli, Chinese celery, ringworn bush, glory lily and stemona.
They are widely used among farmers as alternatives for expensive and toxic farm chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture, a member of the hazardous substances committee, has proposed the new draft requiring growers, manufacturers, importers and exporters of pesticides made from the 13 herbal plants to conform to the Department of Agriculture and follow safety and quality control regulations issued by the committee. Law violators will face six months in jail and a fine of 50,000 baht.
A 44 year-old organic farmer from Suphan Buri province, Sumalee Tanyachareon said the regulation has made her life more difficult. She must inform the agricultural office that she cultivates some of the 13 herbal plants and produces them as a pesticide.
"The regulation would be an obstacle and a burden for farmers instead of promoting organic farming," she said.
Sumalee previously used chemical pesticides to kill insects in her rice farms. Now she uses herbal pesticide, after learning it is cheaper and safer than chemical pesticide.
She said regardless of whether the regulation is withdrawn or not, she will continue to use home-made herbal pesticide as it cuts costs on her rice farms.
Department of Agriculture's director general, Somchai Chanarong insisted the new regulation and the draft would not affect the use of herbal plants in the country. Growers or manufacturers were required only to inform agricultural agencies when they produced herbal pesticide for commercialisation.
" We want to protect the consumer from someone who would cheat them and sell faked products," he said.
Department of Industrial Works' director general, Rachada Singkalwanich said the announcement of the industry ministerial regulation followed a proposal from the Department of Agriculture.
" The Department of Agriculture proposed this regulation because it was receiving a lot of complaints from organic farmers and the department had no regulations to control the misuse of herbal pesticides. "
The Department of Agriculture would draw up a guideline for relevant agencies on the nature of the herbal plants. If the Department of Agriculture had such a regulation, the Department of Industrial Works would withdraw the 13 herbal plants from the hazardous substances list.
Meanwhile, the Public Health Deputy Minister, Manit Nopamorbodhi said he would discuss with the Industry Minister how to help people understand more about the role of the 13 herbal plants in daily lives.
In the near future, he said he would ask the Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine to produce a logo as a safety warning display for herbal products sold in the market.
The Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine's director general, Dr Nara Nakwattananukul said there was misunderstanding about the implementation of the industry ministerial regulation to list the 13 herbal plant as hazardous substances.
Under the regulation, farmers are allowed to use herbal plants as medicine. They do not have to register with the Department of Agriculture if they have small herbal plantations.
The department will organise a meeting which invite related agencies to discuss over this issue on this Friday.
Source: The Nation 2009-02-12